Keep Near The Cross
He who would be holy or useful must keep near the cross of Christ. The cross is the secret of power, and the pledge of victory. With it we fight and overcome. No weapon can prosper against it, nor enemy prevail. With it we meet the fightings without as well as the fears within. With it we war the good warfare, we wrestle with principalities and powers, we "withstand" and we "stand" (Eph. 6:12-13). We fight the good fight, we finish the course, we keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7).
Standing by the cross, we become imitators of the crucified One. We seek to be like Him, men who please not themselves (Rom. 15:3), who do the Fatherís will, counting not our own life dear to us; who love our neighbors as ourselves and the brethren as He loved us; who pray for our enemies; who revile not again when reviled; who threaten not when we suffer but commit ourselves to Him that judges righteously; who live not to ourselves and who die not to ourselves; who are willing to be of "no reputation" (Phil. 2:7), but to "suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41), to take the place and name of "servant," to count "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt" (Heb. 11:26).
"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin" (has "died to sin," as in Romans 6:10), "that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God" (1 Pet. 4:1-2).
Standing by the cross, we realize the meaning of such a text as this: "Our old man is [was] crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:6). The crucifixion of our old man, the destruction of the body of sin, and deliverance from the bondage of sin, are strikingly linked to one another, and all of them linked to the cross of Christ. Or we read the meaning of another: "I am [have been] crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Here Paul speaks as completely identified with Christ and His cross.
As Abraham would, after the strange Moriah transaction (Gen. 22:1-14), look on Isaac as given back from the dead, so would Jehovah reckon and treat this Paul as a risen man! Paul is the same Paul and yet not the same. He has passed through something which alters his state legally, and his character morally. He is new!
Standing by the cross we realize the death of the surety and discover more truly the meaning of passages such as these: "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3); "Ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world" (Col. 2:20); His death (and yours with Him) dissolved your connection with these; "If one died for all, then were all dead [all died]," and He "died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again (2 Cor. 5:14-15). "To this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living" (Rom. 14:9); "He that is dead [has died] is freed [justified] from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ [or since we died with Christ], we believe that we shall also live with Him: knowing that Christ being [having been] raised from the dead, dieth no more [He has no second penalty to pay, no second death to undergo (Heb. 9:27-28)], death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once [His death finished His sin-bearing work once for all]; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof" (Rom. 6:8-12).
There is something peculiarly solemn about these passages. Both in tone and words they are very unlike the light speech which some indulge in when speaking of the Gospel and its forgiveness. This is the language of one who has in him the profound consciousness that severance from sin is one of the mightiest as well as most blessed things in the universe. He has learned how deliverance from condemnation may be found, and all legal claims against him met. But more than this, he has learned how the grasp of sin can be unclasped, how its serpent-folds can be unwound, how its impurities can be erased, how he can defy its wiles and defeat its strength Ė how he can be holy!
This is to him one of the greatest and most gladdening of discoveries. Forgiveness itself is precious, chiefly as a step to holiness. How any one, after reading statements such as those of the apostle, can speak of sin or pardon or holiness without awe, seems difficult to understand. Or how any one can feel that the forgiveness which the believing man finds at the cross of Christ is a release from the obligation to live a holy life, is no less difficult to understand.
To tell a sinning saint that no amount of sin can alter the perfect standing before God into which the blood of Christ brings us is not scriptural language. It sounds almost like, "Continue in sin because grace abounds." The apostolic way of putting the point is that of 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sinsÖ." "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1).
That which cancels the curse provides the purity. The cross not only pardons, but it purifies. From it there gushes out the double fountain of peace and holiness. It heals, unites, strengthens, quickens, blesses. It is Godís wing under which we are gathered, and "he that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Psa. 91:1).
Taking up Our Cross
But we have our cross to bear, and our whole life is to be a bearing of it. It is not Christís cross that we are to carry. That is too heavy for us, and besides, it has been done once for all. But our cross remains and much of a Christian life consists in a true, honest, decided bearing of it. Not indeed to be nailed to it, but to take it up and carry it Ė this is our calling.
To each of us a cross is presented when we assume the name of Christ. Strange will it be if we refuse to bear it, counting it too heavy or too sharp, too much associated with reproach and hardship. The Lordís words are very uncompromising: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). Our refusal to do this may contribute not a little to our ease and reputation here; but it will not add to the weight of the glory which the resurrection of the just shall bring to those who have confessed the Master, and borne His shame, and done His work in an evil world.
With the taking up of the cross daily (Luke 9:23), our Lord connects the denial of self and the following of Him. He "pleased not Himself" (Rom. 15:3); neither must we, for the servant is not above his master. He did not His own will; neither must we, for the disciple is not above his Lord. If we endure no hardness, but are self-indulgent, self-sparing men, how shall we be followers of Him? If we grudge labor or sacrifice or time or money or our good name, are we remembering His example? If we shrink from the weight of the cross, or its sharpness or the roughness of the way along which we have to carry it, are we keeping His Word in mind: "Ye shall drink indeed of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (Matt. 20:23).
The cross on which we are crucified with Christ, and the cross which we carry, are different things, yet they both point in one direction, and lead us along one way. They both protest against sin and summon to holiness. They both condemn the world, and demand separation from it.
The kingdom is in view, the way is plain, the cross is on our shoulders, and shall we turn aside after fashions, and frivolities, and pleasures, and unreal beauties, even were they all as harmless as men say they are? It may seem a harmless thing now to be a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God, but it will be found a fearful thing hereafter, when the Son of Man comes in His glory and all His holy angels with Him!
The cross then makes us decided men. It brings both our hearts and our wills to the side of God. It makes us feel the cowardice, as well as guilt, of indecision, bidding us be bold and stable, "holding faith and a good conscience" (1 Tim. 1:19). Not to take any side strongly is no evidence of a large soul or a great purpose. It is generally an indication of littleness.
Everything in the Bible is decided: its statements of fact, its revelations of truth, its condemnation of error, its declarations respecting God and man, respecting our present and our future. Its characters are decided men Ė Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Paul. It speaks always with authority, as expecting to be implicitly credited. It reckons on our receiving its teaching, not doubtfully but certainly; and it leaves us only the alternative of denying its whole authenticity, or of accepting its revelations without a qualification.
The Bible is Godís direct revelation to each man into whose hands it comes, and each man is responsible for the reception of all that it contains though all his fellows should reject it. The judgment day will decide who is right. Meanwhile it is to God and not to man that we are to listen. For the understanding of Godís revelation, each one is accountable!
Arranged from Godís Way Of Holiness by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), Scottish minister and hymn writer.